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Meet Jan Evensmo - Jazz Archeologist



You may have come across Jan Evensmo's work referenced in jazz publications or liner notes or by reading his fascinating website  -http://www.jazzarcheology.com/ . I contacted him and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions:


Q: Your website is entitled "the treasures of vintage jazz". You have written "solographies" of numerous famous or lesser known artists.  When did your passion for jazz start and how did you come to writing these solographies?


It started when I was 15, and a few years later I joined the Oslo Jazz Circle, the knowledge center of Jazz in Norway.  I am not of those blessed with a good memory, and often I could not remember where the good guys were soloing. It started with tenorsaxist Leon «Chu» Berry with Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway, so I made a survey of that, and called the concept «solography». In there, I also dared to write some personal comments, called «advanced jazz consumer information».


Q: How difficult is it to find all the recordings nowadays? Have you had the opportunity to discover unpublished recordings? 


Most is quite easy. Spotify has helped me a lot. But it all started with my own and friends’ collections, contacts in various countries, later Rutgers University, Institute of Jazz Studies and others. Unpublished recordings are part of the concept, and people send me such things quite often, there are so much you would not believe, and it needs to be collected before the owners pass away.


Q: How many people subscribe to your website? 


Since «jazz archeology» is really something for specialists and not the ordinary jazz amateur consumer, I have not done much marketing. My newsletter reaches around 500 people.


Q: What are you working on at the moment ? 


I need to have several artists in parallel to be able to come up with something new every second month. Right now I am working hard on tenorsaxist Hank Mobley, a fantastic musician.


Q: Your solographies provide not only factual data but personal appreciation of the music. How has your taste and music appreciation evolved over the years? Do you sometimes correct earlier appreciations?


Interesting question! Difficult to answer though. I know that my taste has broadened during more than sixty years of listening. I find qualities in artists that I dismissed too easily before. And I sometimes  look at what I wrote before and found some youthful exaggerated negative critique. Otherwise I am the same guy!


Q: I understand you had the opportunity to personally know some of these great artists. Can you tell us about some of these encounters?


Well, I am doing jazz archeology, and that means so many great artists are dead already. I never met Charlie Parker or Lester Young or many others in person. Though I have met Ben Webster, Buddy Tate, Roy Eldridge, Irving Randolph, Illinois Jacquet to mention some during the solography work. Did not involve them deeply in that though. Nice guys!!


Q: Is vintage jazz at risk of being lost or forgotten ?


I wish I knew. I believe jazz is so strong an art, that the results from the past will always be treasured and protected by experts. The records of Billie Holiday/Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, to mention some from the thirties will survive anything, but probably only for a minority of people. I am more worried about lesser known artists. Knowledge about jazz has never been highly appreciated, even by many who buy records and enjoy the music. There seems to be many anti-intellectual jazz enthusiasts around. So whether Robert Carroll, Paul King, Leonard Ware, Tina Brooks, George Chisholm, Clyde Hart, Jerry Blake, Alvin Burroughs, to mention a few, will be remembered in 2050, I doubt.


Q: Audiophile Style readers may be curious to know what audio equipment you have at home 


My audio equipment is very modest, just an amplifier, CD-player, turntable (with all speeds) and cassette player, all old stuff. Had to give up the reel player. And a pc connected to play all the music files I receive, plus spotify. I have never been very interested in sound as such. I noticed that people with expensive equipment always had very few records to play!!


Q: Can you also tell us a few words about your music collection ?


I never had the money to go for a really large and systematic collection. I have around 2500 CDs, 4500 LPs and 1000 78s; this is nothing compared to many people I have had contact with and who have helped me.




Thanks Jan, I look forward to reading your next articles. Until then, as Jan himself invariably ends his emails: "Keep Swinging" !


Since Jan mentioned him, we will finish this short entry with Clyde Hart accompanying on piano Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry in 1938:



You can find out more about Clyde Hart on Jan's site here: http://www.jazzarcheology.com/clyde-hart/





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Nice interview Stéphane! I am one of those who like listening to Jazz music but don't pay so much attention to the story behind every composer and composition.. It is a shame!



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You may come to appreciate jazz by listening on your own, but it is so vast, that it is helpful to read about it as well. Jan Evensmo is a good teacher, and will help you focus your attention on the best there is. As he indicates, a lot of things are available freely on Spotify, or on youtube. You just have to know what to look for.

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This is a compilation of the usual suspects that you often find in these kinds of lists, and there is a wide variety of artists and styles in that list, so you can be pretty sure to find something you like. 


If you find something that "speaks to you" then you should dig in further and explore that particular artist.


Personally, I used to listen to a lot if this and don't anymore. Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" , John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and Dave Brubeck's "Time Out", the top 3 in the list, which are some of the most popular jazz albums ever, bore me! It seems like half of the list is Miles Davis. 


There's a lot of Mingus, who I like a lot, but it may not be the easiest thing to get into. 


There are a few Ellington albums, and those are not my favorite of his. 


One Billie Holiday album only and definitely not among her best recordings, by far. 


And there is a lot missing!

No list without Coleman Hawkins, for example could be taken seriously 🙂


And by the way, jazz recordings start around   1925, not 1960. 


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